Besides fouling the air and clogging the streets, congestion in New York City costs every man, woman and child in the city real money as prices of goods delivered by trucks stuck in traffic rise to make up for added fuel costs, as meetings are delayed and missed, and as the need for costly road maintenance increases. London-style congestion pricing would reduce congestion by assigning a price to something that is now free but valuable: Driving in the traffic-clogged city center.
Though it makes economic sense, it will take a political battle to win a congestion pricing plan. One of the objections to the notion of congestion pricing is question: “How will people get around if driving becomes too expensive?” Peakguy has drawn our attention to a recent study of Manhattan traffic patterns. The study indicates that congestion pricing in New York City wouldn’t decrease the mobility of the vast majority of the region’s residents:
For most commuters who work in the Manhattan CBD, driving is a matter of choice, not necessity.
Ninety percent of auto commuters live and work in areas where most commuters use some other mode to get to work (i.e., rail, bus, walk, taxi). Only 10% of CBD auto commuters commute between home and work areas in which auto is the typical way to make the trip. … Very few people who drive in the Manhattan CBD lack an alternative mode.
But wait, a skeptic might ask: If you discourage people from driving, they will pack onto the subway, making the trains unbearably crowded. An answer to whether that would happen is provided by Kate Ascher of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, who has a fun book out called The Works: Anatomy of a City. Among its many topics, the book explains how natural gas is delivered to the city, how rail freight moves through the city, how the Port Authority cleans the soot off the roof of the Holland Tunnel every two days, and how that cool pneumatic tube system for moving mail used to work before it was abandoned in 1953. One section compares New York’s subway system with those of Moscow, Tokyo and London, and includes this chart that summarizes their vital statistics.
New York’s subway has 468 stations compared with Tokyo’s 276, but Tokyo’s system carries 2.7 billion passengers per year, compared with New York’s 1.4 billion. Compared with Tokyo and Moscow, New York’s subway system has more cars, more stations, operates during more of the day and covers more distance, but has fewer passengers. (The figures from London are probably from the period before London began it’s congestion pricing program, and ridership has risen since the plan too effect.)
New York City’s relative rail underuse is a function of policies that have encouraged the use of the automobile from decades of street widenings to a gas tax that is among the lowest in the OECD to zoning’s minimum parking requirements to underinvestment in mass transit. These policies have led us to have unused capacity on the rails, which could carry more people who ought not to be hurting the region’s economy by creating costly congestion on the streets and highways. Granted, there’s no unused capacity on the Lexington Avenue Line, where the 6 train runs every 2 minutes and 30 seconds during the morning rush and is still packed. But there is some slack on the many lines that run less frequently, like the B train, which only runs every 9 minutes during the morning rush. There is are also unused tracks. For example, on the Sea Beach Line in Borough Park, Bensonhurst and Gravesend, Brooklyn, N-line express tracks have sat idle since 1968. The city needs congestion pricing, and has a good amount of unused rail capacity that stands ready to provide auto-free mobility for New Yorkers.
- Necessity or Choice? Why People Drive in Manhattan [Schaller Consulting]
- Urban Renewal for the 21st Century [The Oil Drum: NYC]
- Urban Renewal: Getting Cars Out of the City Center [The Oil Drum: NYC]
- The Works: Anatomy of a City [B&N]
- Sea Beach Line [NYCSubway.org]